Hearing on hazard mitigation plan

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While the river may be Guttenberg's most beautiful feature, it's also our most dangerous. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

An updated Clayton County multi-jurisdictional multi-hazard mitigation plan is now available for public review and comment. Council members, city clerks, and mayors of cities within the county joined forces with the Clayton County Emergency Management Commission and Central, Clayton Ridge and MFL Mar-Mac school districts to draft the plan, which documents the county-wide hazard mitigation planning process and identifies relevant hazards, vulnerabilities and strategies the participating jurisdictions will use to decrease vulnerability and increase resiliency and sustainability.

Since 1990, Clayton County has been declared a disaster area 14 times, most commonly for storms, tornadoes and flooding. Planners describe hazard mitigation as any action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from natural hazards and their effects; an effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters; and taking action before the next disaster to reduce human and financial consequences later by analyzing risk, reducing risk and insuring against risk. 

The new plan is available in hard copy or online at http://www.ecia.org/pdf/Clayton%20County%20MJ...06_3_16.pdf. Hazards discussed in the plan include animal/plant/crop disease, dam failure, drought,  earthquake, extreme heat, flash flood, grass and wild land fire, hailstorm, hazardous materials, human disease, infrastructure failure, landslide, levee failure, radiological, river flood, severe winter storm, sinkholes, terrorism, thunderstorm and lightning, tornado, and transportation incidents.

“The planning process gave everyone the opportunity to re-evaluate the hazards that are in each community and what is perceived to be the biggest threat,” said Mayor Russ Loven. “River towns tend to focus on the threat of flood and maintaining all necessary systems to prevent both river and flash flood. This would include access roads, generators, installing riprap, protecting critical facilities such as wells and water treatment facilities, etc.”

“Residents behind levees often have a false sense of security. If the actual risk is not communicated to the residents, the impacts could be devastating. In a municipal setting the severity and duration may be important for life safety and health reasons, but in an agricultural area for economic reasons,” states the plan. “Water bursting through a narrow levee breach is moving much faster than the floodwaters in the main channel. The breaking out of this front water and its fast flow can cause more destruction to structures behind the levee than floodwaters in the main channel would have caused. A failed levee continues to cause damage long after it breaks. The breach allows large volumes of water to enter formerly dry areas, forming temporary lakes. Such lakes do not go away immediately, because the lake is blocked from returning to the main channel by levee segments that were not destroyed. Consequently, the water level drops along the main river days before it drops behind breached levees. Often, pumps behind the levees are needed to remove floodwaters that breach the levees. This alleviates some of the impacts associated with levee failures.”

Other key issues in Guttenberg include the school’s location in proximity to Lock and Dam 10, which creates unique concerns regarding a dam breech, flooding and terrorism. Landslides are a possibility, and in 2013, the city was awarded FEMA money from a rain event to fund some of the cleanup, stabilization and trail repair following a landslide. Other possible weather events like hail, tornados and severe storms are potential hazards, but flooding and transportation are the most significant concerns for Guttenberg residents.

The plan also touches on transportation hazards, noting they are a significant concern in Guttenberg with 13 railroad crossings in the city and at least eight trains passing through per day; further, police, fire, and the hospital are all on the same side of the tracks. “Along with the majority of towns in Clayton County, we have the potential hazard of train derailments which can be a disaster depending the materials being hauled. Emergency Management has been working with the cities and major employers along the river,” said the mayor.

If access to Abel and Essman Island is blocked by trains, no emergency vehicles can get to the island. The city does own three boats and could access by water if necessary. The police department has contacted dispatch for trains if an ambulance is trying to get through to the western side of town and beyond, but this remains a key issue.

The City of Guttenberg has already taken many steps to mitigate hazards, including pursuing levee accreditation, correcting seepage issues, providing emergency disaster response training, and designating the school, municipal building, and St. John’s Church as shelters. Residents are encouraged to keep disaster supply kits on hand, educate themselves on proper steps to be taken in the event of a natural disaster, use NOAA weather radios, and to include tornado-safe rooms in construction of homes and businesses. 

The city’s capital plan includes the purchase of natural gas back-up generators, and there is already a plan in place to address utility outages. Other top mitigation priorities for Guttenberg include fulfilling all requirements from FEMA for levee accreditation, fencing in the water tower, well heads and water treatment facility before the end of 2016; adding generators at the municipal building for two flood pumps, the lift station and at the third well for emergency power; and the purchase of new siren warning systems to replace two that are more than 40 years old and activated by the sheriff’s office, as well as adding new sirens to expand coverage. 

“As a city grows, as Guttenberg has with new developments in areas, the city needs to ensure they have an adequate number of outdoor warning systems. The city has been closely monitoring this,” said the mayor.

Guttenberg will hold a public hearing at the regular July 11 city council meeting. Community members are encouraged to attend and comment.

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